STIGMERGY: The C4SS Blog
Yet Another Attack on Libertarianism by Lynn Stuart Parramore: Part One

Lynn Stuart Parramore just can’t stop attacking libertarianism. In a recent article titled How Piketty’s Bombshell Book Blows Up Libertarian Fantasiesshe targets libertarians on equality and wealth. She also continues to evidence no awareness of the existence of left-wing forms of libertarianism like left-libertarian market anarchism. This is the ideology both I and the site I write for adhere to. This will thus be a critique of her from a left-libertarian market anarchist perspective. Let’s get started.

She opens with:

Libertarians have always been flummoxed by inequality, tending either to deny that it’s a problem or pretend that the invisible hand of the market will wave a magic wand to cure it. Then everybody gets properly rewarded for what he or she does with brains and effort, and things are peachy keen.

Those of us who advocate anarchistic freed markets do indeed contend that unimpeded market forces will lead to drastically reduced inequality, but we do not regard it as magic. It’s the product of applying the insights of economic science to the problem of wealth inequality. Science is by definition not magic and doesn’t rely on magical processes to achieve its aims. Lynn constructs a strawman in accusing libertarians of regarding the market as magical. I know of no libertarian on either the left or the right who regards it as such.

As for everyone getting appropriately rewarded for what they do with brains and efforts, I am not an advocate of meritocracy. Freed markets are useful as a way to conduct economic activity without central command and control or non-coercively. In a certain sense, they do indeed reward brains and effort due to the fact that economic goods or services require both to be produced. That being said, there is also the element of the subjectivity of the buyer and seller. That has an impact on price.

Her article also states:

Basically, the lessons boiled down to this: Some degree of inequality is both unavoidable and desirable in a free market, and income inequality in the U.S. isn’t very pronounced, anyway. Libertarians starting with these ideas tend to reject any government intervention meant to decrease inequality, claiming that such plans make people lazy and that they don’t work, anyway. Things like progressive income taxes, minimum wage laws and social safety nets make most libertarians very unhappy.

Some degree of relative inequality is probably unavoidable in a freed market, but we don’t know how much will exist until we’ve tried it out. We can only predict it will be generally lower than in a society without freed markets. Income inequality in the U.S. is indeed very pronounced. I certainly don’t deny its existence. Lynn doesn’t provide us with any understanding of why libertarians reject the government interventions she mentions. The reason is that they rest on the initiation of force or the threat thereof. She also ignores the fact that some of us are anarchist welfare liberals who support non-governmental or non-state social safety nets.

After the Great Depression, inequality decreased in America, as New Deal investment and education programs, government intervention in wages, the rise of unions, and other factors worked to give many more people a chance for success. Inequality reached its lowest ebb between 1950 and 1980. If you were looking at the U.S. during that time, it seemed like a pretty egalitarian place to be (though blacks, Hispanics, and many women would disagree).

Government intervention may have reduced relative inequality, but it was also state intervention like regulatory protectionism, corporate welfare, tariff walls, IP monopolies, banking monopolies, land monopolies, and strike breaking by agents of the state that helped create that vast inequality in the first place. The rise of unions was indeed a factor, but the original unions were not government or state sanctioned. Kevin Carson has also shown that unionism is more successful or would be without government support/regulation. That’s all for now. I will write a second part to be released on Friday.

Free Markets & Capitalism?
Markets Not Capitalism
Organization Theory
Conscience of an Anarchist